The Blue Garden

GBP £39.95



ISBN: 978-1-911282-59-4

212 pages

305 x 229 mm (9 x 12 in)

73 colour and 120 b&w illustrations

In association with the the Hamilton Family Trust

September 2019


A compelling story about the decline and rebirth of the 100-year-old Blue Garden, an icon of Gilded Age splendour in Newport, Rhode Island

“The landscape historian Arleyn A. Levee, combines past owners’ biographies with an analysis of plant life and chronicles of tragic phases. Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm created the original botanical splendors out of what Ms. Levee describes as “windswept jagged moors layered with enormous rocky extrusions.”—Eve M. Kahn, The New York Times

“Profusely illustrated throughout, The Blue Garden: Recapturing an Iconic Newport Landscape is an inherently fascinating, impressively informative, and exceptionally well written, organized and presented study, making it especially and unreservedly recommended for personal, professional, community, college, and university library Gardening & Horticultural Studies collections.”—Midwest Book Review

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Until recently, the Blue Garden was known only from hand-tinted slides dating from 1917. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. and the Olmsted firm in collaboration with the garden’s original owners, Harriet and Arthur Curtiss James, the garden was enlivened by an unusual horticultural palette—a monochromatic concentration of blues and purples. Nearly destroyed after years of neglect, the garden has now been brought back to life.

Landscape historian Arleyn A. Levee tells the fascinating story of the garden’s origins, development, heyday, decay and ultimate renaissance. The Blue Garden skilfully interweaves the garden’s design and social history, and stories of its founders and the Olmsted firm—founded by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the landscape architect responsible for Central Park, New York City—with historical photos, original drawings and sketches, and contemporary images of the restored garden from 2015.

This is a timeless and inspiring account of the skilled artisans and great designers behind the creation and revival of a masterpiece made possible by the vision of a devoted patron, the late Dorrance H. Hamilton.

About the Authors

Arleyn A. Levee is a landscape historian and preservation consultant specialising in research concerning the Olmsted firm. She received degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard University, and a Certificate from the Radcliffe Seminars Program in Landscape Design. For decades she has worked with national nonprofit groups to advocate for enlightened rehabilitation and stewardship of America’s historic landscape legacy.

Sarah Vance is Director of the Blue Garden, and was part of the design team that developed the rehabilitation plan for the garden and supervised its construction. She works with a dedicated group of gardeners to ensure the design intent of the garden is maintained while offering it to visitors as an accessible and sustainable landscape. Sarah received a Master in Landscape Architecture with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Millicent Harvey visited the Blue Garden for several consecutive days in mid-summer 2015 to photograph the garden and its surrounding landscape. Her goal was to place the restoration of the garden within its historical context. Millicent studied at the Art Institute of Boston, and taught at the New England School of Photography.

Marianne Lee works from Newport and was asked to visit the Blue Garden weekly to photograph details of the plants as they matured and bloomed. Marianne’s images are an intimate essay on the ethereal beauty of each plant and flower’s life.

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowledgements
  2. Preface
  3. Introduction
  4. Chapter 1: The Context for the Blue Garden
  5. Chapter 2: The Estate on Beacon Hill: The Owners
  6. Chapter 3: The Estate on Beacon Hill: The Designers
  7. Chapter 4: The Estate on Beacon Hill: Construction
  8. Chapter 5: Formality with Distinction: The “Blue Garden”
  9. Chapter 6: Celebrating the Garden
  10. Chapter 7: Years of Decline
  11. Chapter 8: A New Era; Photographic Essay by Millicent Harvey and Marianne Lee
  12. Endnotes
  13. Bibliography
  14. List of Illustrations
  15. Index